“I’ve got one! I’ve got one!”
The sound was pure joy. The day had just begun, and the fish were biting. The excitement of reeling in the big one would be heard throughout the morning as people served by United Ability cast a line and brought in the catch of the day.
“It’s a gorgeous day. Everybody, no matter their degree of disability, is able to fish and enjoy life,” explained Dr. Gary Edwards, CEO of United Ability. “What could be better?”
United Ability is dedicated to empowering children and adults living with disabilities. The vision of the nonprofit organization is a world where disability is neither defining nor limiting.
“Our mission is to provide opportunities for people with disabilities to be part of the community – not to be excluded, not to be isolated, but to be part of the community,” Edwards said.
This day of fishing at Oak Mountain State Park, near Birmingham, Alabama, was designed for people enrolled in United Ability’s LINCPoint Adult Day Program. Not only did people learn how to fish, they could show their artistic flair.
Volunteers like Haile Henry and his colleagues from Southern Power joined dozens of volunteers from Regions Bank. While some helped people bait hooks and teach casting techniques, others helped United Ability clients with painting, chalk art and more.
“It’s important for us to provide opportunities like this for our employees because we know that our employees want to give back to our community,” said Lee Ann Petty of Regions Bank Community Affairs. “We believe in the programs that United Ability provides to adults and children and to families throughout our community.”
In addition to members of the adult day program, United Ability also brings children to the lake to give them a chance to fish. Between United Ability’s clients and all the volunteers, a couple hundred people surrounded the lake at Oak Mountain on a series of recent days, fishing off a specially designed pier for people with disabilities.
“Individuals with disabilities have the same abilities that a lot of other individuals without disabilities have. They just do it in a different way,” said Kathy Lovell, Disability Services and Outreach Manager for Regions. “So having this type of experience gives them the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, I can go fishing. I can do this.’”
United Ability, formerly UCP of Greater Birmingham, has served people in Central Alabama for 70 years. Dr. Edwards has been CEO of the nonprofit for over half that time. Even with all his years of experience, seeing the sheer joy on people’s faces – and hearing another “I got one!” – still carries a very special meaning.
“Every day is incredible – to see some dreams come true,” he shared. He paused briefly and summarized what the fishing events represented. “Hope. This is really hope. That kids who are born today with a disability will be a full part of the community. Not isolated. Not excluded. But included in every aspect of life.”
To learn more about United Ability’s wide range of services, visit this link.
And for more sights and sounds from United Ability’s Gone Fishin’ event, check out the brief video below.